[box cover]

White Hunter, Black Heart

Clint Eastwood's White Hunter, Black Heart (1990) comes across as the most expensive HBO movie ever made. The film is based on the book of the same name by Peter Viertel, who was privileged enough to work with John Huston on The African Queen (1951) and then wrote a slightly fictionalized book about those experiences. Indeed, it's hard to imagine watching this picture without knowing it's based on Queen; it even has Marissa Berenson and Richard Vanstone standing in for Hepburn and Bogart. Eastwood stars as John Wilson, the Hustonian director who's about to start a movie for producer Paul Landers (George Dzundza in the Sam Spiegel role) in Africa, and uses the film as an excuse to take writer Pete Verrill (Jeff Fahey) to Africa to go on a hunting expedition, specifically to hunt and kill an elephant. Verrill plays the good conscience, trying to steer Wilson away from his obsession, but the further he goes on his hunt, the more Wilson willfully ignores everything else around him — especially the movie itself. White Hunter, Black Heart is an odd choice for Eastwood, and it's an odd performance. Some have claimed that the role reveals his limitations as an actor, but his John Huston has many of the mannerisms and speech patterns of the director (though Eastwood has a hard time faking being a smoker). But he never fully captures Huston. Like Anthony Hopkins' in Nixon, Eastwood doesn't so much try to imitate as embody, and once one adjusts to the performance, it works well enough. But the heart of the film is obsession, and this is where the story seems a bit weak — Eastwood has never been much of an emoter. Though he stretches what acting muscles he has, it's hard to call his performance dynamic, and it's frustrating, since the star is the whole show; Fahey is the narrator and main character, but neither he nor anyone else makes much of an impression. Nonetheless, as the movie heads towards the final hunt, the tension builds and one senses the turmoil within the director who declares his desire to kill an elephant "a sin." What makes White Hunter, Black Heart work is the idea that some men chase their reputations to the point of self-destruction, and though Eastwood may not have totally succeeded, the picture is still an interesting experiment and bookend to The African Queen. Part of Warner's "Clint Eastwood Collection," White Hunter, Black Heart is presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Theatrical trailer, snap-case.
—DSH



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